Saturday, July 12, 2008

All Tip and No Iceberg - When the Rubber Hits the Road

The Men
"Australian slang is part of the beautiful cultural value of this nation." - Bindi's Mum

"Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages" - Dave Barry

We Australians are known to pride ourselves on our "colorful language". From Bazza McKenzie with his "technicolour yawn" in the 1970s, Paul Keating and his "scumbag" insults in the nineties, to Andrew Hansen - best illustrated in the Eulogy video clip (below right).

War Against Everything - Eulogy
Classified 'M' [very course language]

But there is something endearing in American English's disregard of grammar and its unfettered creativity demonstrated in a multitude of ever-changing expressions.

I like the way adjectives turn into nouns, as in, "I don't like hot", and nouns such as "diary" verbing into diarize". Dropping the intransitive verb completely, as in saying to the cat, "Do you want out?"

Perhaps it is because Americans have no time to form complete sentences. So they just say anything. And if a more complex thought needs to be expressed - one that may need more than one sentence, there's often an idiomatic expression to substitute for it. Such as in the following except from an IBM database magazine.

"The Rubber Meets the Road -
How will DB2 Viper's hybrid XML-relational data server work in the real world? You can join the customers and partners who are revving the engine, kicking the tires, and checking performance and handling. Here's what to look for when you take it out for a spin."

I also like, "Am I about to step off the curb or step off the Grand Canyon?".

But sometimes I wonder - how would a modern American express, Jane Austin's first sentence in "Pride and Prejudice"? - "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife"?

Or a 21st century Australian, for that matter? I can't imagine. Few people nowadays take care in sentence construction. We don't have the time. I don't think it's an English thing, an Australian thing, or a US thing. It's a twenty first century thing.

We are not into words right now. Our dinner party conversation don't measure up to those of Austin's heroines - or even the of the Beatles. Who was it said, "The media is the message"? Some sixties person no doubt. This is the time of the Obama-Michelle fist bump, of icon hieroglyphic symbols instead of words, of touch screens and ativars.

Meanwhile, I love the American language, a shorthand for thinking. Words that are halfway between perfectly formed sentences and Egyptian hieroglyphics,

Way to go ...

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